Langkawi – 99 Islands14/08/2013
By Adrien Gallo
Malaysia’s Langkawi Islands are well established within Malay mythology, and are becoming increasingly well known as one of South East Asia’s best island resort destinations.
Langkawi offers travellers the perfect combination of sea and sun, rainforest and islands, peace and tranquillity, culture and tradition as well as simplicity and style.
The group of 99 islands is situated in the state of Kedah, 30km off the northwest coast of Malaysia, between the Thai island of Phuket to the north and Malaysia’s Penang island to the south. As such, they have been influenced by many cultures throughout history.
The main island covers an area of almost 500sqkm and much of this remains untouched and covered in tropical rainforest . Most of the 65,000 islanders are rice farmers or fisherfolk whose ancestors have inhabited the island for generations. They are a friendly, laid back and multicultural community who take great pride in their islands, religions, lifestyle and food. They also enjoy the freedom of a peaceful and safe island. The people strive to sustain the ecology of the island through good stewardship and sustainable practices.
Langkawi International airport is a modern facility providing speedy connections to many parts of the world. The main town of Kuah is also the terminal for incoming ferries and many duty-free stores, services, facilities and restaurants are located here.
Langkawi offers a unique tropical encounter for all the senses in a setting of unparalleled beauty.
WHERE RAINFORESTS MEET THE SEA
Only three islands in Langkawi group have any form of development – the rest are mostly covered in lowland rainforest. These islands are home to many unique plants and animals and Langkawi islanders have sustainably used products from the sea and forests for centuries.
The island’s geology is very important in explaining the various vegetation communities. Most of the outer island are limestone and marble, while the main island comprises ancient sandstone formations and granite intrusions. The sedimentary formations of Mount Machincang have been dated to 550 million years, making them some of South East Asia’s oldest rocks. With UNESCO assistance, the local authorities have gazetted Langkawi as a Geopark in order to showcase and protect these geological formations and the associated plant and animals for current and future generations.
Self-exploration of various rainforest trails is possible but being guided by an experienced naturalist is recommended. One of the most popular walks is up Seven Wells (Telaga Tujuh) where a picturesque series of cascades and pools, deep within the rainforest at the foothill to Mount Machincang, can be experienced. The walk is steep and monkeys can be seen on the way. It’s also possible to explore the forest higher up the mountain by alighting from the Langkawi Cable Car and walking between the middle and top stations.
Another accessible forested area is located on Langkawi’s highest peak, Mount Raya (Gunung Raya). A winding 13km road to the 880m high summit passes through mature forests. These are home to various animals including many birds, especially hornbills and birds of prey, which soar high above the canopy.
Langkawi’s most visited natural habitat is the mangrove forests fringing the coastline of the main island. Each day small boats transport tourists into this labyrint of mangroves for a closer look at these unique plants and the associated fauna. The most popular area of wetlands is within the planned Sungai Kilim Nature Park. Birds of prey, like Brahminy Kites and White-Bellied Sea Eagles feed on the fish living within the mangroves and coastal waters. Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins and Finless Porpoises are occasionally found around Langkawi. There have also been reported sightings of Whale Shaks,the world’s largest fish, as well as Bryde’s Whales.
Beneath the waters a different world exists and, while diving is possible off some of the islands, the best visibility is found in the waters of Payar Island Marine Park, south of Langkawi. The legendary Lake of the Pregnant Maiden (Tasik Dayang Bunting) is a beautiful freshwater lake located on limestone and surrounded by rainforest.
Associated limestone caves are another important feature and cave exploration is possible in several locations. Many are home to cave dwellers like bats. It is possible to visit caves like Gua Pasir Dagang, Gua Kelawar and Gua Cerita.
Langkawi is home to a variety of fascinating fauna including some 200 species of birds. Four primate species including the Long-tailed Macaque, Dusky-leaf Monkey, Slow Loris and the Flying Lemur (Colugo) live in the forests. Animals like the world’s smallest deer, the Mousedeer, Giant Squirrels, Flying Foxes, Civet Cats and Pangolins also live here. A variety of lizards and snakes can be found all over the islands. Many animals are camouflaged and seeing large animals is a bonus, but the myriad of smaller creatures such as insects, spiders and butterflies make jungle trekking a rewarding and exciting experience.